Out of nowhere, James Arness gifted his $2 million ranch to kids
The cowboy's own kids loved the ranch. Once they grew up, he donated the land to the neighborhood kids.
Five years after Gunsmoke premiered, the classic TV Western’s star, James Arness, bought a ranch of his own in 1960.
According to United Press International, Arness spent most of his time at the ranch wearing his favorite Levis and a cowboy hat, spending time with his family and only rarely entertaining guests.
When he did have guests over, the TV cowboy loved to barbecue, while visiting friends and family let their kids run wild, riding his horses and swimming in his waterholes.
Having married his first wife in 1948 and adopting her young son, together they had two more, and in 1960, their three kids ranged in age from 8 to 14. Like their dad, there was nothing they loved more than spending time on the ranch.
By 1972, though, all of Arness’ kids had grown, and in the 12 years he spent on the ranch, he’d noticed what was going on in the neighboring land around his sprawling 950-acre property.
Next-door to Arness was the Brandeis Camp Institute, a Jewish youth organization where children and teens spent their summers engaged in outdoor activities.
After seeing how much joy the kids got out of the camp, Arness decided one day — completely out of the blue — to donate all of his land to those kids, a property worth $2 million.
"It was a very ecumenical act of philanthropy by Mr. Arness, who is not himself Jewish," Dr. Max W. Bay, the president of the Jewish youth organization, told The Orlando Sentinel in 1972.
"He spent a lot of time there and became aware of the impressive work done by the camp," his lawyer said in a statement after Arness made the donation.
When the Brandeis Camp Institute inherited the ranch, they inherited the houses, corrals, barns and outbuildings that Arness had built with his Gunsmoke fortune.
Since then, the institute has granted filmmakers access to the property where a futuristic building has been used as a film location for classic TV shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 1980s Twilight Zone reboot, and an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.